KARACHI: Highlighting the devastating effects of Covid-19 on health, economic activity and life in general, speakers at the inaugural session of a three-day virtual symposium held at the Aga Khan University on Thursday underscored the need for prioritising public health and environment to manage pandemics in the making.

Human actions such as deforestation, encroachment on diverse wildlife habitats coupled with growing population, urbanisation and travel, they pointed out, were playing a major role in the spread of viruses.

The theme of the 23rd National Health Sciences Research Symposium is ‘Covid-19: challenges and way forward’.

Talking about the pandemic and the lessons learnt, Dr Faisal Sultan, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister of Pakistan on National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination, said it taught us that health couldn’t be a second priority.

“Resources will always be limited but targeted prioritisation can still be effective when directed towards building and strengthening much needed infrastructure. Pakistan is learning from its experience with Covid-19. We are reforming our health security institutions along with our public health institutions,” he said.

‘No major side effect of Covid-19 vaccine has been reported so far’

Keynote speaker Maria Van Kerkhove, an infectious disease epidemiologist and Covid-19 technical lead at the World Health Organization, observed that epidemiological situations remained dynamic and uneven and were further complicated by the emergence of virus variants.

“What is really critical is that we make sure that not only vaccines are rolled out and received by those who are vulnerable, people of older age and frontline workers, but we still continue to adhere to the individual-level measures, including hand hygiene, physical distancing, mask wearing, avoiding crowded spaces and improving ventilation by opening windows,” she said.

Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah, the chief guest, reiterated his government’s will to vaccinate frontline workers, senior citizens and the general public in phases.

“Although the initial phase has already started, this is a long battle and all of us have to play our part.”

He appealed to institutions and individuals to follow the Covid-19 guidelines and standard operating procedures devised by the provincial government.

Dr Adil Haider, dean of AKU’s Medical College in Pakistan, said the pandemic had brought the developed and developing countries to a common ground where they faced similar challenges, so any ignorance would ultimately have implications for the whole world.

“The new normal should be a transformation, leaving behind political and social conflicts and setting up priorities for a better world. For the health sector, it should be a ‘makeover’ to new or improved rules of the game — redesigning and innovating the health systems,” he added.

ZU seminar on Covid-19 vaccine

Meanwhile, health experts at a seminar organised by Ziauddin University on Wednesday dispelled several myths surrounding the Covid-19 vaccine and emphasised the need for creating awareness.

“In Pakistan, the vaccine we are using has an inactivated, dead Covid-19 particle which develops the immunity response. A number of Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE are using this vaccine,” said Dr Obaidullah representing the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP), adding that for the first time in the history of Pakistan the phase-three trial of Sinopharm vaccine involving 18,000 subjects had been completed.

Dr Osama Rehman Khalid, consultant infectious disease at Ziauddin Hospital, said it’s important to get vaccinated because it would help stop the rapid spread of Covid-19. “While a vaccinated person still has the chance to catch the disease, the vaccine would help reduce chances of complications and disease’s severity.

“Pregnant and breastfeeding mothers are not recommended to get vaccine’s shot because pregnant and breastfeeding mothers were not part of the clinical trial of this vaccine.”

Dr Bushra Jamil representing the Medical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases Society of Pakistan said “no major side effects had been reported from the vaccine so far”.

Published in Dawn, February 12th, 2021

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